Nujoma talks from retirement
The Founding Father of the Namibia Nation, Dr Sam Nujoma turns 83 on the 12th of this month. In this exclusive interview, Nujoma talks about some of the yet-to-be-revealed details about his life in retirement and his life 80 years ago.
PF: Your Excellency, thank you very much for granting us this moment from your hectic schedule on the occasion of your 83rd birthday. How do you describe life in retirement and with such a huge revolutionary stature, how do you view present day developments?
Sam Nujoma: There is challenge being in retirement, being an active person, since I was a young boy or a youth. I am in a new situation now. But there are many things one can do, for example, our culture and traditional way of life. It is important for us to respect our culture and traditional leaders, our kings, headsmen and elderly persons.
We have lost that.
PF: But where are we losing it? There is so much disturbing news in everyday life today; an increase in murder and rape. And these are criminal activities undertaken by us, young people. Where have we, the youth, gone wrong? What was the difference in your youth?
Sam Nujoma: I was brought up as a herds-boy looking after my father’s cattle and sheep. I had a task and responsibility. I grew up under colonial administration in the North. It was very difficult for a young person to come to Windhoek to seek for employment; you had to go through semi-slave contract system under the so-called, South West Africa Native Labour Association (SWANLA).
Luckily, I did not go through that system, as I went with my auntie to Walvis Bay.
Before that, my father would take me to the King’s Palace, just like in all those days, we were taught how to defend ourselves, our palace and even the country at the Ombala yOshilongo shaNgandjela.
I went with my auntie to Walvis Bay in 1946, just at the end of the World War II when soldiers were being retired and going back to their homes. Walvis Bay that time was just a military base with the infantry, air force and navy maintained by the British. We used to see the soldiers drilling and there were talks about mobilising people for the British to fight against Nazi Hitler and his fascism ideologies.
They were talking about young people going to fight Hitler. It was also the same time that the United Party was in power in Namibia led by General Smuts and intensifying apartheid policies, for instance, denying us education and training with policies; like in Bantu Education, mathematics and science were not taught to us. There was education for whites and education for blacks.
As youth, we asked ourselves why we had to fight Nazi Hitler who intended to dominate the whole world when we were having the evils of our South African colonisers here at home.
We, therefore, organised ourselves and targeted for the abolishment of SWANLA, which was enslaving our people, as slavery had been abolished all over the world. In 1949, I came to Windhoek and worked in the railways and at the same time attending night school at St Barnabas of the Anglican Church in the Old Location, studying English.
That time, Chief Hosea Kutako of the Herero and Chief Samuel Witbooi of the Namas were petitioning for United Nations to place South West Africa (SWA) under its trusteeship system to develop the indigenous people of Namibia towards self-determination and national independence.
We had formed Ovamboland People’s Organisation (OPO); the forerunner of Swapo in April 1959 and decided to join the Chiefs’ petition to the UN because the apartheid regime regarded the Hereros and the Namas as the minority arguing that the Ovambos were supporting the regime, after some traditional leaders had been misled. So when we came on board the petition, we demanded that the whole of South West Africa be placed under the UN Trusteeship, like all the other former colonies in Tanganyika, Rwanda, Burundi, Cameroon and Togoland. This did not happen.
As you are aware, on 10 December 1959, we boycotted all the municipal activities, like cinemas, bus services, beerhalls and hired a vehicle mounted with a loudspeaker where Swanu and OPO mobilised the people announcing in Otjiherero, Nama/Damara and Oshiwambo.
Nathaniel Mbaeva and Willie Kaukweto of Swanu were announcing in Otjiherero. Late comrade Moses Garoeb was speaking in Damara/Nama and I was announcing in Oshiwambo, as we mobilised people. It was the first time that our people heard their languages on air. Nobody went to the beer halls (laughs).
Everything came to a stand-still, because people wanted to hear the broadcast and everything came to a complete standstill. The Boers got angry. The 10th of December was really the launching of the revolution. This of course was followed up by the women demonstrating because the Boers were harassing them in the Old Location. So women also launched the struggle that same time when they demonstrated against the Administrator of SWA, who was a colonial governor.
Boers were angry; they opened fire at unarmed demonstrators at the municipal offices in the Old Location. Later that day, we got arrested; Nathaniel Mbaeva was deported to Otjinene, Omaheke. Jacob Kuhanga who was the SG of the OPO was deported to the North. I was arrested and was supposed to be deported to the North but through the OPO, I had a lawyer representing me and each time, my case was withdrawn from the magistrate court. Every time I walked out of court, they would re-arrest me. It happened about 10 times. I would pay 10 pounds each time and then we realised that we were making the Boers rich. Ten pounds was a lot of money, even though it was paid by OPO of which I was president.
We were quite organised from the on-set.
One day, I was arrested on a Thursday and was set to be tried the following week but I skipped bail. We had met as the OPO Politburo that Friday and I then went up to Tanzania through Bechuanaland, Southern and Northern Rhodesia. I was met by President Julius Nyerere who had just come from the UN’s 4th Committee of the General Assembly where he petitioned and it had been decided that Tanganyika would be independent at the end of 1961.
Nyerere was also a member of the legislative council or Tanganyika and president of TANU. He wrote a letter for me to pass through Sudan which had achieved independence in 1958 and the Sudanese government accepted me because I told them of my mission to petition at the UN.
I remember the immigration officer in Sudan who had been arrested during their liberation struggle, asking me if I had money on me so that they could organise my papers quickly.
I had 500 pounds on me. I gave him my money and he arranged for me to sleep in Acropol Hotel in Sudan.
Later, I was connected to the Ghana Embassy in Sudan and they channelled me through to Accra where Kwame Nkrumah was leading an All-African People’s Conference to protest against the testing of atom in sub-Saharan Africa. Ghana had just been independent in 1957 and the Algerians were fighting for their independence with the recently passed on President Ahmed Ben Bella leading the revolution.
So I met many African leaders in Accra at the conference, like Patrick Lumumba and Joseph Kasavubu. The Ghana government assisted me with travel documents.
Remember, while I was in Tanganyika, I had applied for an oral hearing before the UN Committee on Southern Africa.
By June 1960, I arrived in New York and petitioned before the UN Committee of SWA.
I spent six months waiting in New York for the General Assembly. I returned to Tanzania in 1961 through Liberia, Nigeria after the General Assembly to establish a Swapo office.
President Nyerere organised the Pan African Freedom Movement for East, Central and Southern Africa (PAMFMECSA) where all liberation movements like ZANU PF (Zimbabwe), Frelimo (Mozambique), ANC (South Africa), MPLA (Angola) became centralised in Tanzania. Kenya and Uganda were also not independent yet so they joined us. That is how we started the struggle.
I invited many comrades to Tanzania, especially many who were in Cape Town. I established communication with the comrades in Namibia. A lot of comrades escaped from SWA and joined us in Tanganyika and we used to broadcast from there to Namibia via radio services.
From Tanganyika (now Tanzania), it seemed our petitioning was not effective and hence we started mobilising guerrilla fighters, sending them to be trained as far as Egypt. The first group went led by the late commander Tobias Hainyeko, Patrick Lunganda, John Nankudhu and there were among the first group we sent to Namibia and launched the armed struggle on the 26th of August in 1966. Most importantly and more effectively, the first white person, a warrant officer in charge of the North at Ondangwa and commanding all the South African police, was shot down by the late commander Lunganda.
I was very effective because he was gunned down just about two kilometres from Okahao on a Saturday evening. His body was left there till the next day, which was a Sunday.
People gathered to see a dead dirty Boer’s body bleeding through the nose, lying bare as the others ran away.
From there, it was propaganda machinery at work about Swapo guerrillas from Tanganyika’s ability to change into jackals. Some began to say the guerrillas could change into ant-hills when surrounded by the enemy. All this encouraged many youngsters to want to join Swapo and the struggle.
The commander was the late Comrade John Nankudhu.
That is how the youth of our generation was active; from defending the family to defending the country. We had a strong army and all the countries we had in Tanzania were now getting independence and came to our assistance with logistics to intensify the struggle.
PF: What inspired you into doing all this?
Sam Nujoma: I was inspired by the time I spent in the King’s Palace in Ongandjela where I was taught how to fight.
PF: The King’s Palace is no longer that revered today. Could that be the reason we have lost it?
Sam Nujoma: We lost our culture and traditional way of life. We don’t respect our chiefs, our elders, omarenga, aaukuruntu, or our parents anymore. Especially the young boys; they don’t follow the ways we were brought up.
At an early age, my priority was to look after cattle and then school. Cattle were the wealth, the economy of the family. We had to safeguard them. Now the kids of today are into alcohol and drug abuse. I think the Swapo Youth League should take the responsibility against drug abuse and violence.
These new churches that are mushrooming today are not doing us any good. The African Methodist Church, Roman Catholic Church, The Anglican Church and Lutheran Church are the churches that stood with us during the struggle. These ones of today are just taking our people’s money without any results, making people jump the whole night (laughs). If people are dancing the whole night, when are they going to work? Are they teaching our people the right thing?
We need to respect our parents. Let’s go back to our culture, therefore, we have a joint responsibility. Respect our culture and way of life. That means Okusimaneka Aakwanilwa, nomalenga, naakuluntu, naalongisikola, naahongi yetu yopambepo nokusimaneka keshe omukuluntu, that must be the responsibility of the youth. We are proud that Namibia is independent, because that is what we fought for as youth.
As youth, we need to fight for the economy. Let’s embark on services of economic development. Youth must go into business, for example, farming not alcohol.
PF: Your Excellency, there have been a lot of issues that have needed your input and your attention since you took the back-seat but you have not been talking. What do you miss most from the Office?
Sam Nujoma: When I retired from the office, I joined University of Namibia where I did my masters in Geology. I now know what we have in Namibia on the surface and underground. I am busy studying new things, many things every time. I am involved with reviving traditional cultures and way of life.
We are missing something there. You can go to school to become a lawyer, a scientist or an engineer but you must have respect and embrace and maintain your culture. That is my message. Respect akwanilwa nomarenga naakuluntu aeshe, that is my message to the youth of Namibia and Africa. And, they should be able to fight and defend the territorial integrity of the African continent so that our resources can be utilised for the benefit of Africans.
PF: The Congress is coming up, as an adviser to Swapo, how would you like the Congress to handle the succession issue?
Sam Nujoma: My advice is; we should follow the constitution of the Swapo party and the program as well as the constitution of Namibia and everything will be well.
PF: The struggle now is economic. From a retirement point of view, what is your message?
Sam Nujoma: Let’s remain united; work together because a united people striving to achieve a common good for all members of society will always remain victorious. PF